Essential Apps Before You Fly
On my first big holiday, I carried a discman and a case of 10 CDs. I had Lonely Planet’s ‘Europe on a Shoestring,’ travellers cheques and a Nokia 3310. It was 2004 and calling home involved getting a phone card, finding a pay phone and hoping someone picked up the landline. I also had an address book to write down the details of newfound friends. Thankfully, email and Internet banking were a thing.
Fast forward 12 years, and my phone is my life. It contains my calendar, emails, Runkeeper, food tracker, music and messaging. But it's when I’m travelling my device really shines.
I’m assuming Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Skype are already smartphone staples and maybe you don’t want to use them on your holiday anyway. While I’m all for a digital detox, going offline, and so on - I also want to know the latest exchange rate before I blow $500.
Here are my essential travel apps:
Download this free app to kickstart your trip (or bookmark the site on your work computer). Skyscanner compares flights on all airlines, and even mixes and matches flights in case the cheapest option is to fly there with Jetstar, and come home with Virgin. By far, this app’s best feature is the ability to search “EVERYWHERE” because sometimes, you have a spare week and some cash. Other times, you really want to visit Melbourne and just want the cheapest flight in coming months. Skyscanner has you covered for both those scenarios and unlike other websites, it doesn’t remember your searches and bump up the prices. You can also create price alerts for your searches.
2. Trip It
You’ve booked flights, hotels, a day tour and an ice hockey game... how on earth do you keep track of it all? Download TripIt and forward every email confirmation to firstname.lastname@example.org, where they'll instantly be generated into single itinerary. You can then share the plans with your travel buddies (and give them editing access too) or quickly email a link to your family. It’s a lifesaver when you need your hotel address for immigration forms or want to check flight times but you don't have WiFi. Bonus? TripIt is free! The paid Pro version will send alerts if your flight times changes, which is handy too.
3. Xe currency
A simple but essential app allowing you to list up to 10 currencies and have up to the minute exchange rates. XE Currency easily calculates any amount of local currency into your home dollars, or vice versa. It’s handy in the booking stages (particular for hotels or tours) to see what the damage is. Take care if you’re abroad and the rates prompt a spending spree though – your banks won’t be giving as generous rates and international transaction fees can have some bite too.
You want cocktails in Copenhagen? Feel like sushi in San Fran? Yelp is your saviour. This app is the gateway to thousands of reviews on food, services and places across the world. I’m all for exploring a new city and letting the streets guide the way, but think of Yelp as a compass to guide your journey. I did a search for dumplings in Washington D.C. and ended up at a great place called CopyCat Co. It’s a cocktail bar above a Chinese restaurant, so you can get exceptional drinks with a side of gyoza and Sriracha. As Yelp reviews promised, the crowd was awesome and staff mixed some of the best drinks I’ve ever had. The night was an absolute highlight of our trip to the capital. Thanks Yelp!
5. For fitness fans: MindBody
I downloaded MindBody while in New York in 2015. It’s fantastic! Search for classes such as yoga, spin or boot camp in your neighbourhood. Best of all, you can book and pay via the app which avoids the need for pre-class paperwork. I used this app to check out Sacred Sounds Yoga (Greenwich Village) and my first hot yoga class at Modo Yoga NYC (West Village). It was a breeze! I was really excited when I saw Perth businesses were signed up too. TIP: You can also search for beauty and spa services.
6. For music lovers: BandsInTown
An app that scans your music library and suggests gigs you might be keen on? Yes, it exists! Bandsintown also lets you set a location and a radius, so in the months leading up to New York I received local concert alerts and could buy tickets. Skrillex on Halloween = score! My boyfriend and I even got pre-sale tickets thanks to this app. Live music is great anytime, but even better when you’re raving with local crowds. Double points for this app working in your home city too.
7. Get some language skills: Duolingo
Why play Candy Crush at the bus stop when you could learn a language instead? Featuring Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish and more, Duolingo is easy to use and most of all, it’s FUN and FREE! Download a few months before your trip to get as savvy as you can. Will you become fluent? Probably not. But will Duolingo enrich your knowledge of the country and help you avoid Googling menu items? Absolutely.
8. Manage money with a buddy: Splitwise
You paid for Universal Studios and dinner, but your friend got the cab to the airport… so that’s like… uhhh… FORGET IT. Sometimes you’re in a cheap destination and no-one cares about a few dollars. Other times, you’ve had a six course degustation and also pre-paid the helicopter tour for two while your buddy covered the Broadway tickets. The ‘back and forth’ of who paid what is an unwelcome chore on vacation and, unless you have a joint account or are wealthy enough not to care, SplitWise can avoid those “keeping track” conversations and calculations. Set it up before you go and then keep tabs along the way.
and on a serious note…
While you’re planning a holiday and thinking digital, it’s worth signing up for the Australian Government's Smart Traveller alerts. I tracked the spread of Zika virus while in the USA in 2016 before we went to Mexico. Thankfully, it didn’t hit Cancun but the email updates were a good way to stay informed without trawling through news sites. Register your trip as well in case a disaster strikes. It’s unlikely, but letting the government know your whereabouts gives them a head start for any rescue or other efforts that might be needed.
QUESTION: What are your top travelling apps?